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Herding - History and Style

by Jacqueline Byrnes

Ann Witte described the Beardies in Scotland that she had personally viewed working, and Alan described the "Huntaway" working in the following manner: The Beardie would go up the hill and often clap in the waist-high brush. The sheep, with their heads low, grazing, cannot be seen at this point. The "Huntaway" with its acute hearing would listed for where the sheep stirred. Then, it would bound and bounce in the brush, often hitting heights of 5-6 feet, all the while turning its head about to locate the sheep. The bark would only come at the height of the leap (Ann figures that was the way it used its bark for power). Now the Beardie saw the sheep, so it took off and did a wide circle to bring the sheep together, then it drove them down the hill. Then the Beardie would return right back up the hill and repeat the entire procedure until the entire flock was rounded up. It sounds as though the "Huntaway" had a superior ability to hear. 

Since today's Beardies actually descend from the Hill and Flatland dogs, who, for about 400 years, served Man in a different way, we see a variety of "styles" that aren't really separate but complimentary in their purpose. 

The true hill Beardie, the Huntaway, would be over-extending his usefulness on the flats. Mari Taggart used to joke that to truly show off the Tweed's of the worlds' incredible talent, we would be required to design a trial course that was for Huntaways only. It would cover a couple of hundred acres, covered with thick brush, rocks, etc., and the stock would have to be put there several weeks in advance, so that they wouldn't be too tame. (The judge would have to ride on horseback just to be able to view the dog in action.) 

The Huntaway worked sheep that saw dogs only rarely, didn't particularly like people much either, but the power and the bounce of the Huntaway would cause the positive effect of moving the stock as a unit down the hill, whereupon your "lesser dog" (a term used by Scottish shepherds, it's their pen dog, often a Border Collie or an old Beardie who couldn't do the hill work anymore) would put them through the chute, or hold them to be dosed or whatever. 

The Huntaway would have to gently and confidently handle the ewes with lambs, face down the nasties, and get this done without direction or command, since their work is done well out of sight or sound of the handler! 

The flatland dog worked the more "traditional" (i.e., better known and recognized) manner, and certainly didn't have a problem with gripping as needed to get their work done. 

Tommy Muirhead, one of the last farmers to use Beardies as working dogs died in the early 1990s and there was a fear that the breed as a working animal might die out. There is/was an attempt to revive and revitalize the working Beardie in England. The Working Bearded Collie Association was formed in 1990. This group does not approve of the show bred Beardies, however. 

There are working Beardies in some of the U.K. countries today that came from ancestry not registered with the U.K. Kennel Club. They have paperwork on these dogs back to the 1800's. Nick Broadbridge, in Scotland, has the Sallen Kennel. He has U.K. registered dogs and an unregistered working line. Since Jeannie/Bailie all came from working lines, it would be interesting to see if they are linked. 

It is believed that Nick's unregistered line comes from Blue. Tumbull's Blue, a Scottish dog, is the only Beardie that is ISDS registered (International Sheepdog Society, and English border collie registry that will only register dogs with known working ability). This dog caused the registry to add a third category (they started with sheep dog - rough, and sheep dog - smooth), that being sheep dog -bearded. Of course Blue had to win the International several times to be recognized. 

In North America, Beardies have participated in Border Collie trial courses successfully. A tribute to their heart and talent is the fact that, with so few working at these events they succeeded against overwhelming numbers of border collies. There is a Beardie who has not only run the Border course with a 400+ year outrun, but also took High in Trial out of over 40 dogs. She was competing successfully in Redwood Empire trials from around 18 months and won that HIT at age 6. 

That little Beardie bitch was Rougeshollow Twill be Holm, owned and trained by Linda Lee Merritt of El Cajon, California. Her sire was Herding Champion Rougueshollow Tweed who was saved from going to the pound by Roberta Wyloge (Lott) and placed with Mari Taggart Her dam was Tiburon Devine Day at Holm Rougueshollow Tweed, HCH, earned his HCH from the BCCA Trial Program in May, 1985. He was handled mostly by Mari Taggart When Tweed became a herding champion, the requirement (from the BCCA) was 15 points, earned at any stockdog trial, with two of the wins requiring "majors", that is: based on the point scale of the BCCA trial program at the time, he had to defeat more than 15 dogs in a class (or a whole trial, if he went HIT or RHIT). 

Thanks to the following knowledgeable people for letting me use their input:

Judi Max; Mike Tupa; Joel Levinson; Lori and the Surfsong Beardies

Copyright © 1997[Jacqueline Byrnes]
Information updated: 2009 [Lois Gaspar]


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Last revised: November 11, 2010